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How to Equip Patrol Cars

From vendor to in-house installation, find the method that works best for your agency.

April 01, 2005  |  by - Also by this author

Most law enforcement agencies have been through the process of buying and equipping cars many times before. But just because you've done it before doesn't mean you have to do it the same way every time. There are many choices when it comes to outfitting your patrol cars with lightbars, partitions, deck lights, and all the other accoutrements that make cruisers patrol ready. Maybe it's time for your department to look into the different options.

Getting Started

You'll definitely want to include your chief or sheriff, any officers with technical expertise, and a general cross-section of patrol officers when deciding what equipment officers need in their cars to do their jobs. Needs can change each year, so it's important to involve anyone who might have insight into these developments before entering the bid process for buying new cars, which will need to be fully equipped.

What to include in a bid depends on how much you want the dealer to handle and how much you want to take on yourself. As a department you have several options.

Working with Dealers

Most police departments rely on car dealerships to get them the cars they need with the equipment they want. Communicating your expectations to the dealer is an important step in acquiring new patrol cars that are properly equipped to suit your agency.

For example, a smaller department might require different equipment than is specified in the original state bid it's using. A dealer should be willing to come up with a solution to any such issues. Even if you plan on upfitting your cars in house, you'll need the best equipment package to fill in the gaps between the very base model and what your agency will be installing.

"My job is to make sure everything works," says Kevin Buzzard, a fleet dealer at McPeek's Dodge in Anaheim, Calif. "I basically play the middleman. I take what the department wants and then I get with the upfitters and make sure it's all cost effective."

The dealer facilitates the upfitting process. Each agency can decide how deeply it wants the dealer involved in this process. No matter what route you take, he will be the one to deliver new vehicles. It's up to each agency to decide to what degree the cars will be equipped when they arrive from the dealership and who will do the installation.


The most hands-off approach to equipping patrol cars requires almost no involvement from the agency after the bid process. When you rely on a dealer to take care of equipping your agency's patrol cars, most of the work is done for you before you ever see it. Some agencies, especially smaller departments, prefer this solution.

"The dealership is getting the vehicle and subbing it out to a 'subcontractor' for us," explains Chatham County (N.C.) Sheriff Richard Webster. "The dealer has had some questions but, other than that, I don't need to deal with it. The dealership gives me a turnkey price."

If you choose this option you just need to include every item you want in the bid. If you don't specify a certain manufacturer for a particular part, the upfitter the manufacturer uses will choose for you. This is a practice that saves time and often doesn't matter. But if you have a particular preference, make it known.

Webster has found in his two years as head of the Chatham County Sheriff's Office that he prefers to choose the specific equipment that goes onto his patrol cars.

"I was more specific this time because I wasn't happy with the equipment I got two years ago," Webster says. "This time I'm getting brand-name equipment put on the vehicles. I may pay more, but I know I'm getting a quality item."

Once your agency has chosen a dealer to work with via the bid process, your involvement pretty much ends. This is where the dealer steps in and takes over.

A dealer communicates with both the car manufacturer and the shop that will equip or "upfit" the vehicles. Dealers often receive patrol cars from the manufacturer and then deliver them to a local shop to install equipment before delivering them to the agency. But now it's becoming more common for manufacturers to use their own upfitters, so the cars are already equipped when they reach the dealership.

DaimlerChrysler works with Canfield Equipment in Warren, Mich., to outfit patrol cars.

"They're a full upfitter for everything from the ground up," says Dodge dealer Buzzard of Canfield Equipment. "We even ship the radios back to them. They do all the installs and have worked with the IT people at agencies to decide what computer stands they're going to use, and talked with dog handlers to decide what kennels to use for their K-9 units."

Using Canfield Equipment to equip the vehicles, Buzzard says it takes 90 to 100 days for the entire process from receiving the purchase order to delivering the cars to the agency.

"The department's purchase order goes to Chrysler and they build the vehicle in four to six weeks," says Buzzard. "It's then at Canfield for two weeks being equipped and then it's put on the train to come to me."

When the dealer receives the newly equipped cars he may have the vehicles painted at the dealership before delivering them to the agency.

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